Most writers will experience at least some form of writer’s block in the course of their efforts. It takes different forms for various people, as evidenced by the many expressions used to explain it.
“I don’t have any ideas.”
“Everything I write sounds stupid.”
“I just can’t get motivated.”
At the root of it, most writer’s block comes from fear or at least from uncertainty. Writing is like any other art – the writer must create something that will go out before the public for examination. This is a personal process, and carries with it the risk of rejection. Any artist can understand the fear of being mocked for his or her hard work, and it’s equally understandable that this would intimidate some people into hesitating when the time comes to write.
Before going much further, it must be said that there is no cure for writer’s block – those who suffer it push through to the other side with sheer willpower. The writer must exercise his or her judgment and forge ahead. Be that as it may, there are a number of techniques that can help rally a writer’s determination in order to bring them forward through the wall of fear and into the realm of joyful writing.
Technique #1 – Stand on Giants’ Shoulders
One of the most common instances of writer’s block comes when writing on a subject that many people have covered before. The fear is that there is nothing new to contribute to the matter, that anything additional would seem superfluous.
One technique, popularized in the movie Finding Forrester, is to search out similar writings on the subject by other authors. When a writer finds a piece they particularly like, they borrow a line or two from the author, and try to write further material from there. Once they hit their stride, they move on and produce an article entirely their own.
Note that last proviso in the technique – this is not permission to plagiarize. The original author’s contribution is simply to provide a starting point to the creative process, not to add anything to the final article. Once the process begins, the author must write his own work and not use anything from the original article unless he is willing to include it as a sourced quotation.
Technique #2 – Write in Bursts
Sometimes the psychological effects of writer’s block feel like a weight. Sitting down and writing becomes burdensome and exhausting, and wears the writer out as surely as heavy exercise.
In these cases, it can be counterproductive to try and write everything at once. Instead, the writer should sit down and try to write to a certain goal, say 200 words. If she hits her goal, she should try and keep writing. If she cannot reach it or takes unusually long to do so, she should stop for five minutes and do something else. Listen to music, eat a tasty snack or read something enlightening – then try again. These repeated small attacks on the subject will help wear it down without it seeming quite so massive.
Technique #3 – Shut Down the Editor
An in-process version of writer’s block was explained by Chris Baty, the creator of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Baty argues that many writers sabotage their productivity by constantly self-editing and self-criticizing as they work, spending more time correcting what’s already been put down than putting out new copy.
The idea Baty suggests is to turn off this inner editor and write constantly without correction. The article will still be there when the writer finishes, so it can be corrected at the end rather than throughout the process. This allows writers to focus on the primary effort of creating their work rather than getting distracted.
Technique #4 – Write Backward
Another symptom of writer’s block is feeling that writing has become routine and less enjoyable than it used to be. The process is always the same, and has become predictable and stagnant. The solution is to change the order of how one approaches things.
Instead of working from the introduction, through the body and to a conclusion, the writer should work on the conclusion first. Write up a spot-on end topic to the piece, then fill in the rest accordingly. A story writer could begin with the ending chapter, and then write the rest out of order in a Tarantino-style kind of time-play. Whatever specific way it’s done, the idea is to approach writing from a different direction in order to awaken its enjoyment factor anew.
Technique #5 – Don’t Write, Speak
A lot of focus has been made lately on the technique of writing the way one speaks. Instead of dividing the mind between writing and speaking, one simply writes AS one speaks, getting the material down in a more authentic way. This may not always be appropriate, but it’s rarely completely out of place.
The idea is to avoid complicated sentences that reference back to parenthetical clauses and other assorted specialized writing hang-ups. The focus changes to short and direct language, with a clear message and point to each line.
This doesn’t mean to include every verbatim tic of a writer’s speaking style. “Ums” and “ahs” must, of course, be excised, since they don’t add anything to the subject.
In short, writer’s block doesn’t have to be terrifying. There’s always a way around it, and with a little force of will any writer can see that it isn’t a brick wall so much as a cloth sewn to look like one.